Monthly Archives: March 2015

EASA 2015: No Swimming Alone

Spring has sprung again, and again we trek to the Eastern American Studies Association’s annual conference. I’ve been attending since 2009 as a presenter (I also attended in 2005 or 2006 as an audience member), and I really love the mission of this particular group. It is student centered, with a unique focus on the work of undergraduate students. It houses an undergraduate journal (the only one of its kind in American studies), the first national American studies honors society (EAK, which I feel like has the same name as a fraternity in Monsters University), and an undergraduate roundtable, which has become so popular that it split into two separate panels last year.

I’m also honored to serve as the Graduate Student Representative on the executive board and as the interim regional representative to the American Studies Association (while our real rep is abroad). I dedicate serious thought and time to this conference (although not as much as last year, when I was a co-coordinator). Our theme was “Land and Sea,” and we joined with the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association (MAFA) to put together a really big event.

2015’s meeting was held at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ over this past weekend (March 27 and 28, specifically). One of the pleasures of conference travel is the ability to do so with my graduate school friends, and this year was no exception. It was the usual suspects (Me, Becky, Andrea, Hilary, and Semontee) with the wonderful addition of this year’s co-coordinator, Christie. When you aren’t in coursework or teaching anymore, it is difficult to get to know the newer students, so it was nice to get to know her a little better. We got Starbucks, gabbed, laughed, panicked over our cars, and arrived at Rowan with little difficulty. I had no idea Rowan’s campus would be so large! It was really nice, and it looks like they are expanding and improving even further.

I attended the executive board meeting at noon in Hollybush, a historical home on Rowan’s campus. Aside from being an important Glassboro landmark, it is also the location of the Summit at Hollybush, which occurred in 1967. Because of its location half-way between Washington and NYC, it was chosen to host a meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to discuss a release of tension during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War. Kosygin was in NYC to address the United Nations. The summit was successful and tensions were relieved on this topic. The executive board was fascinated by the history, and we even got to sit in the chairs that Johnson and Kosygin had once occupied. Here is Drs. Kupfer and Bronner squaring off:

A rare glimpse into the real world of PSH AMST department meetings. (McGee-Yinger)

The meeting was fruitful, and I was off to present at 2pm, the first session of the weekend.  “Art and Animation: Reading the Land” was the title of our panel, and there were four very different presentations about New Jersey artists, Modern art and landscape, Donald Duck comics, and Walt Disney & Charles Willson Peale. The last one, perhaps obviously, was mine. I wish I had gotten more effective feedback and questions from the audience, but my moderator ended up being a great resource and new academic connection. She suggested investigating Woody Register’s Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements. I plan on doing so this week. Thanks Elizabeth O’Connell-Gennari of Rowan University! My colleague, Peter Bryan, was a co-panelist, and I can’t wait to pick his brain more about his research. He and I frequently present together because of our mutual interest in Disney (albeit very different aspects of his work).

Peter answers a question about whether or not Donald Duck is a duck or a person. Answer: It depends on who you ask. (Andrea Glass)
After my presentation, I returned to my day job at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. (Andrea Glass)

3:30’s “Roads, Rivers, & Racetracks: Americans on the Move” was not to be missed. I’ll admit: My sole motivation for attending this panel was the work of Ms. Hilary Miller, friend and fellow Downton Abbey watcher. Her dissertation work on the history of the National Road is really interesting, and her work in the archives pushes me to do more. She used National Road narratives to investigate how American identity was formed and perceived during the early 19th century. She was followed by another Penn Stater, Wes Stauffer, who has done great work in the field of World War II history, particularly here about the AlCan Highway. My dad is very interested in what one could call “historical logistics,” and that interest has rubbed off on me. Very cool stuff. Finally, Jonathan Silverman of UMass Lowell discussed his research on what has become of old horse-racing tracks, especially how he uses Google Maps to match the locations of old tracks with present day roads and developments. Many of them still exist in spirit as shopping centers, neighborhoods, and curved roads (mostly still possessing the theme of horses or racing). It was a whole new method that I had never considered!

I needed to rest after this (I hadn’t slept well the night before and driven quite a lot), so Hilary and I debriefed with our friend Lynne, who drove in for the day from her position as Director of the Arch Street Meetinghouse. Go visit her. Reconnecting with people is a major perk of conferences like these. If you would like to read about the plenary session, “The Child of Such Union: A Forum on the (Em)Bedding of Folklore and American Studies,” see John Price‘s post on the EASA conference.

The reception was lovely, and gave everyone a chance to regroup, have a beer, and catch up with old friends and mentors. We were warmly welcomed by members of the Rowan community, David Puglia (President of MAFA and a classmate of mine at PSH), and Nicholas Paleologos, the Executive Director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

We checked in at the hotel, and while some of us were tapped out from the day, others socialized over a drink and some apps at the restaurant next door. It was a very long day for everyone, and I’m glad I was able to muster the energy to share that time with friends.

Saturday dawned cold and early. Cheesy, but true. After a quick breakfast of Froot Loops at the hotel (I’m totally an adult person), we jetted off to Rowan again for another three panels. For a re-cap of the 8am panel “Mass Media(ted): Mediation on Pop Culture,” see John Price‘s blog. Because we got to the morning panel late, I decided to wait and have some tea. At 9:30, I attended a symposium on American Studies and Teacher Preparation. I attended La Salle University, which requires its Elementary and Special Education majors to double major in American Studies. It makes them more marketable and provides them with a wide subject matter knowledge base. Despite these advantages, few schools that offer both majors connect them in such a way. Rowan University is another that makes the connection, and while it doesn’t require American Studies as the double major, it encourages it. Rowan’s studies have found that those who double major in AMST score higher on the Praxis II content test over all four subjects, and that American Studies-trained teachers better prepare their own students for standardized testing because it teaches them to think recursively. Former students of both programs spoke on the advantages it gave them, some less obvious than others, and we discussed as a group what the barriers were to improving these programs. I was totally re-invigorated after this panel, and it makes me excited for the day I can teach at La Salle again. My biggest challenge as a professor at La Salle was reaching the education students and making American Studies relevant to them.

Finally, I ended the morning supporting Becky Cecala and her research on the work on Dr. Josephine Baker. Her panel, “Gender Identities: Profession & Presentation” was diverse and fascinating. I was especially interested in Paulina Guerrero’s study of the Smith Island Crab Meat Co-Op. It was ethnographic research at its best.

The weekend was capped off with lunch, awards, and an interesting ride home. The GPS took us a different route than I was used to in coming from South Jersey, which we found out was to avoid traffic on I-76 in Philadelphia. We stopped at Wawa for smoothies, hoagies, and some snacks too. Anyone who knows me was probably wondering when that field trip happened. During the last leg of our trip, we experienced a pretty insane snow squall. It was difficult to see, and it was gone as quickly as it arrived. It was a dramatic ending to our weekend.

My thoughts on EASA are more well formed than last year. I have found myself “growing out” of certain conferences in the last few years. While fun, I really don’t see myself going to PCA/ACA anymore. I find that I get little effective feedback at the panels, and that networking is very difficult in my subject area. It also feels as though it is one person in a Batman costume away from being a very intelligent Comic-Con. I may also be outgrowing EASA as a presenter. I don’t get a lot of effective feedback, which is my major reason for presenting. Many of the attendees are other Penn State students, and they have already been my sounding boards. I have also found that too many projects come to EASA with no argument and no polish what-so-ever. It is a great place to start developing ideas, but one should at least come to the table with something. It may also be too friendly. I find that many audiences are reluctant to challenge a panelist in anyway. Yes, those challenges should come in a polite and collegial way, but we all need to be forced to defend our arguments. Others seemed straight-up unprepared or unaware of what presenting at a conference really entails.

That said, I want to continue to attend EASA as a board member. The academic climate is changing, and I think an association as small as EASA can more easily change with the times to stay strong and relevant. I hope to help steer it in that direction as a board member. It should continue to be about the free exchange of academic ideas, while also guiding students of all levels through their research and academic careers.

Possibly rules for surviving graduate school, but they were actually posted next to our bathtub in the hotel. (Becky Cecala)

Essentially, EASA saves people from swimming through academia alone. I need to move from being a kid in the deep end to a lifeguard.

– The Lady Americanist.

PS: I hope to add more pictures later when the site cooperates. I think these are a nice taste of the weekend for now.

Controversial Topics with the Lady Americanist.

I’m not a controversial person by nature. There is almost nothing about me that would raise an eyebrow. However, I seem to gravitate towards research topics that really get people arguing.

My undergraduate thesis looked at the psychological effects of 9/11 at the fifth anniversary. As part of this research, I also collected oral histories from people of different age groups to see how others processed the event. My mentor on this project was a psychology professor, so I followed all of the IRB rules, and I even learned to use APA citations. It was a wild time for the Lady Americanist.

I presented my first semester’s worth of work at a small reception in our Honors Program office. Only the other students completing projects and their mentors (and some very supportive friends of mine) attended, and everyone was very friendly. In the spring, when I finished my project (it took an academic year instead of one semester because of the project scope), I was encouraged to present it at a poster fair to celebrate undergraduate research. I observed a few things:

1. People avoid the 9/11 project. It makes people uncomfortable, especially when you have a self-made film playing that celebrates the towers.

2. People are way more interested in the science projects than the humanities. It’s hard to present humanities research on a tri-fold board and make it interesting.

3. The only people who approach the 9/11 project are those who want to ask you about the conspiracy theories and “truthers.”

That last one really got my goat. These folks never took the time to look at my thesis, which takes no political stand on 9/11 what-so-ever, but saw pictures of plans and the Pentagon and took that as an open invitation to ask me pretty inappropriate questions about pretty upsetting topics.

So, rather than pursue this research further, which I regret and plan on returning to at some point, I changed directions as a Masters student. I figured something lighter would be best. Researching 9/11 for an entire year of undergrad is emotionally draining. I chose film as my focus in graduate school, and I decided to take my knowledge of New York City and use it to analyze the films of Woody Allen.

Bad idea.

If I thought I got uncomfortable questions with 9/11, they paled in comparison to those about Mr. Allen’s personal life. Again, my project had nothing to do with Woody Allen’s romantic life or really his life after 1986. My analysis was ignored by many at conferences, and I was asked a lot of questions about Soon-Yi Previn (her name never appears once in my thesis).

My current research has its Disney-haters (but I can fend them off and ignore them…it’s a welcome break from questions about government conspiracy). However, I find that my topic allows for a lot more discussion about my research than invasive questions about my subjects. I do get the odd “Where is Walt Disney’s head frozen?” inquiry, but that’s more amusing than anything else.

All this said, I never want to stifle academic discourse. I don’t love that these sorts of challenges got in my way of pursuing topics that genuinely interest me and have a place in the American studies pantheon. These sorts of questions belittled my time and effort on important topics. How Americans deal with events, both culturally and psychologically, is very important.

How do you deal with insensitive questions about your research? It’s difficult to fend off a line of inquiry that is obviously meant to demean you or your research. Any advice (other than humor, which works with Woody Allen, but not so much with 9/11)?

– Lady Americanist

PS: This post was inspired by a recent viewing of the documentary The Woman Who Wasn’t There, which tells the tale of “Tania Head,” a woman who claimed to be both a 9/11 survivor and a 9/11 widow, both of which were lies. She got away with it for about 6 years, which just fascinates me. Even 14 years later, it is difficult to see what the broader effects of 9/11 have been. It’s definitely something I will be returning to after the dissertation is complete.

Mom, A.B.D.

As of October 3, I attained A.B.D. status. For the uninitiated, it stands for “All But Dissertation,” meaning that my only barrier to the Ph.D. is the dissertation. It’s a big deal (not as big as the Ph.D., but I’m right on target for my program, and that’s a positive thing), and I frequently get asked how I did it with a kid.

First, let me say, I have the most agreeable child in the world. He is very good at entertaining himself so I can write or grade, and he is patient to go to school with me to run errands. This was a major factor in my success. In addition to that, I have a very supportive spouse, who wants me to finish the program almost as much as I want to be done. He creates an environment that allows for me to write everyday and do my research.

Second, I am lucky to live near both my parents and my in-laws, who stepped up with alarming frequency to provide me with both study time, time to teach, and date nights. My mother-in-law is a constant saving grace because she watched E almost every day that I went to school. I seldom had to ask for help, because those around me knew what was involved and stepped up.

Still, getting it all done to this point (with or without children) wasn’t easy, so here are some tips:

1. Get and Stay Organized: To me, this is the key to all success. I’m a huge fan of a good planner, a sturdy binder, and lots of lists. Use what works for you. I can talk for days about my Moleskin weekly planner and monthly planner and how I would be lost without them. But if your phone calendar works better, by all means, use that. If you have little hands around, keep this stuff out of their reach. Don’t risk it.

2. Do YOUR Best: It’s very easy to get competitive in graduate school. In my program, it’s not worth it because we are all studying diverse topics, and by and large, we don’t compete for resources. My friend’s dissertation about women of science is in no way competing with my dissertation on corporate media. So, I just had to concentrate on doing my best work, not THE best work. It resulted in success for me because I was confident in my ability to perform quality scholarship.

3. Just Get It Done: It’s easy to have flexibility in the timeline of a graduate program. Barring serious issues (illness, death, etc.), try to stick to the fastest timeline. The longer you take, the more money you lose, either in tuition or lost employment. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just take one class this semester,” but if you can handle two, by all means, get it done.

4. Be Proactive: Have a back-up plan for everything. Save your work to Google Docs or a flash drive every day that you write. Have a babysitter on call or a way to take your kid to school with you if you are able. Don’t wait to register for classes, because if you can’t get the ones you need, you need to set up an independent study or readings course right away, which can be a challenge. Do not leave things to chance.

Now I’m continuing work on the dissertation, which is going well. I have numerous chapters in process, and I hope to be done in a year or so. I’ll try to take my own advice.

– The Lady Americanist

**This post is copied from my personal blog, but I felt it applied to both realms.

Carrying On.

I bet you thought this would be an inspirational post about persevering through adversity.

You would be wrong. I don’t write inspirational posts in that vein.

Until about a year ago, you could say I was terrible at packing for trips. The best example of this was my honeymoon. I bought the biggest suitcase I could find and filled it to the gills. It was almost half my body weight. Those who know me know that I am not a fashionista, nor am I terribly high maintenance in terms of my hair or make-up. I just wanted to be prepared. But for what? It was 3 nights of cruising followed by four nights at Disney World. I knew what to pack on both fronts, but I feared not bringing enough. It was unseasonably chilly in Florida that year, and I ended up wearing my one pair of jeans almost every day in the parks. I used about half of what I brought as a result.

Anyway, when I started attending conferences in graduate school, I realized that I needed to pack more efficiently. On my first multiple night conference as a Ph.D. student (PCA/ACA in D.C., 2013), I found I struggled with my luggage on the train (we had to change trains in Philly to get to D.C.; it was a challenging ride, to say the least). I brought way too much. The next long conference was to D.C. again, and I again overpacked. I thought the event was more professional dress, only to find that I was over-dressed. Oops.

Last year, I flew to Chicago for a conference that lasted 6 days and 5 nights. I’m a nervous flyer, and I didn’t want any issues with my baggage, so I committed myself to carry-on only. I managed to pack an outfit for everyday, plus my presentation outfit, PJs, shoes, toiletries, AND my camera bag in a carry-on suitcase. I also took a backpack for my laptop and such. I wore everything I took and my only regret was my shoe situation. I only packed Toms (which I wear everyday from March to November) and heels. Well, it rained the day we left and my Toms got soaked. They dried out fine and worked OK, but I wished I had a pair of back up flip flops or something.

When I packed for ASA in 2014, I was a seasoned packing vet, and I decided to share that advice with you (with pictures!)

Almost done packing!

1. Plan Your Palette.

This tip is perhaps the most helpful. Attempt to bring clothing and shoes that all coordinate, or at least mostly coordinate. I am a huge fan of navy, white, and grey, so that is what I tend to pack, with a few accent pieces in mint, coral, and yellow / gold. This allows you to re-use pieces if you need to, especially pants, shoes, and jackets, which take up a lot of space. It also prevents me from bringing too many scarves. I love scarves.

2. Minimize.

Get the tiny toiletries. If you can, use the hotel stuff. It’s not for everyone or every product, but it cuts down on bulkier items like soap. I put my hair products (wax and straightening cream) in a contacts case. It was more than enough, because I use so little, and took up very little room. If you are traveling with close friends or family, perhaps coordinate toiletries. On my Chicago trip, one friend was checking her bag, and she brought body lotion for everyone in our room.

This tip also applies to HOW you pack, not just what you pack. Use all the space in your suitcase. There are a lot of handy guides on Pinterest, and the best advice is to roll your clothing. Socks into shoes. I even roll my underwear. Not only is it a space saver, but it prevents wrinkles. Put things where ever they will go. My camera bag also houses my presentation cards (for conferences), tea bags, and hot chocolate packets (in a separate pocket and Ziploc bag, no worries).

With your personal item (backpack, purse) you can get a lot of use out of those items as well. If you have a lot of reading to do, just pack a Kindle or e-reader. It may not be your preferred method to get your reading list completed, but your back will thank you. Ditch the extension cord part of your computer cord. Take unnecessary things out of your wallet. Little things make a big difference!

3. Know the Itinerary.

Have a good idea of what each day holds. Perhaps you are going to a wedding, but know exactly what events are planned for each day. For conference trips, I know what day I present and coordinate my casual and presentation outfits accordingly. You won’t be caught off guard, and you’ll have just what you need. For ASA, I wore a lace skirt with a blue blazer. After the presentation, I ditched the skirt and went for a pair of khaki shorts. Plan outfits that go from day to evening (or presentation to sightseeing) easily.

My flying outfit: blazer, comfy but nice pants, t-shirt, scarf, and shoes that are easy to remove at security.

4. Civilization is Near.

Unless you traveling to a more remote locale, you are always near a mall, drug store, or grocery store if you forget something. No one wants to spend extra money on a trip, but it’s not the end of the world and you won’t spend as much as you would to check the bag.

I have some other items that I like to bring on trips. I always bring a soft purse that I can pack during travel, but that I can use once I get to my destination. I also bring a light blanket with me. It folds up small and is just the right size for a cold plane or train. It can also double as a pillow. I also travel with food. I like to snack and eat, but I hate paying for restaurant food all week at a conference. I especially recommend fruit leather, Cliff bars (good breakfast), peanut butter M&M’s, and any other small nosh. I request a fridge if it doesn’t come with the room, and I try to find a grocery store or CVS near by to get some yogurts and such once I arrive. It stores leftovers too!

Graduate school and conferences are expensive, but these are some simple ways to cut costs. The only thing you have to do now is control yourself at the book sale, and you’ll be OK for the ride home too. (And on the book sale? See if you can wait until the last day. Publishers don’t want to take everything home, so they offer much deeper discounts. At ASA, some sold all paperbacks for $5 or $10 and hardbacks for $10 or $15.)

Finally, enjoy the conference! It’s a professional trip, but they always present opportunities to see new things, meet new and fascinating people, and get effective feedback about your research.

– The Lady Americanist.

ASA 2014: Assymetrical Haircuts and Other Adventures

If you recall, I was very wishy-washy on ASA (American Studies Association) last year. The 2013 meeting was controversial, tense, and a little stuffy. The Student Association events were a bright spot, and when I found out that the award I won at EASA came with a spot on an ASA panel, I decided to give the conference a second chance. I’m glad I did, although I still don’t see myself making the ASA an annual pilgrimage.

My trip began with a quick drive to my grandparents’ house. I wanted a direct flight to Los Angeles, and Dulles was the best option. However, it is 2 hours away from my home, and my grandparents live half way. Just as I was preparing to leave (at 4am), the power went out. And they live in the hills, where it’s dark even when the power is on. I felt bad abandoning them in the dark, but I had to get going. It was pouring rain, and it made for a very stressful ride to Dulles. However, after that the flight out was uneventful. Easy time through security and such. I even discovered that Starbucks makes a peppermint mocha frap, which makes me both happy and a walking, talking stereotype. Oh well.

Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.
Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.


The advantage of flying west is that you get three hours back. THREE HOURS. It’s like the flight barely happened. I got settled at the hotel, registered at the conference, and started figuring out which panels to attend. The first panel I went to was a Student Association workshop on “perfecting your pitch,” in which we gave our short (3 minute) proposal on our dissertation / project and receive feedback from a professor who has never heard it before. I spoke with Prof. Libby Anker from George Washington. Her feedback was refreshing, and it was especially nice to hear from a female in the field. She told me to be less apologetic and to emphasize the scope of my project rather than apologize for it. She liked my project, which was validating because I was convinced it wouldn’t fit in at ASA. Thank you Dr. Anker.

My roommate and I attended a lot of student events, including the opening night mixer. The graduate students at ASA are really wonderful to interact with, and we really got effective feedback at all of the student events we attended.

L.A. Manhole Cover
Social conscious manhole cover, Downtown L.A.


A colleague from the Penn State Harrisburg American Studies program, who is now at William and Mary, presented on the first day, and he did a fantastic job talking about the intersection of country music and race. My first day was rounded out with the Regional ASA meeting, at which I represented the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA). Our real rep is in India, so I was happy to fill in. I was fascinated to listen to how other regional ASA’s deal with having conferences. We are lucky enough to have a condensed geographic area and a lot of passionate people on the board, and therefore EASA has an annual conference that fills up every year. SASA (Southern ASA) has a conference every other year, while the Rocky Mountain ASA (which encompasses 8 very large states) has difficulty finding a way to make a conference possible for all attendees.

L.A. Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library, Downtown


Los Angeles is a strange city, and it was difficult to sight-see without a car. My roommate is a lot more intrepid than me, and she pulled me out into the sunlight to see some very cool places just around our hotel, including the Grand Central Market. On the last day, we walked towards the Staples Center, but it was really just movie theatres and regular outdoor malls. I wish we could have seen Hollywood or Santa Monica. Next time.

The student award winner panel was one of the most amazing panels I have ever been placed on at a conference. The discussion was substantive, helpful, and lively. People really understood my research, and it was really an honor to be recognized along side the other winners. I left the conference as a whole ready to dive into writing my dissertation.

I also attended a panel called “Killing the Keyword,” which was a non-traditional event in which everyone put a word or concept that they feel is overused or used incorrectly into a bowl. The panelists then pulled each one out and discussed it at length. Most of the words were just discussed and clarified, but some were “killed.” Neoliberal(ism) was one of the killed words, primarily because people tend to use it as a crutch to sound smart, rather than applying it appropriately. I put that word in the bowl, as did about 40 other people, so it was nice to hear a real discussion about how accessible we are as writers.

My flight home was exhausting, but that’s what you get when you take the red-eye. I was thrilled that I could take that trip, and that it was eventful in all the right ways. I had never traveled alone like that, and so that was a nice change of pace. My roommates were very nice, especially Brittany, who became a fast friend. She’s doing really great work in the Appalachian region, and I think she is going to effect change for that area of the country.

Next week I go to EASA for the 7th time as a presenter. It will be much more relaxing than last year because I did not organize the conference! I’ll write more about that later.

– The Lady Americanist.